From Our Own Correspondent Podcast
About the podcast From Our Own Correspondent Podcast
Insight, wit and analysis as BBC correspondents, journalists and writers take a closer look at the stories behind the headlines. Presented by Kate Adie and Pascale Harter.
Brazil’s Embattled President Tries to Rally his Supporters
There is only one power Jair Bolsonaro thinks can remove him from power, and that is God - at least that's what Brazil's President, told his audience at a rally on Tuesday. He had called on people to come out and support him at events across the country - and come out they did, though not perhaps the million he had hoped would attend. Mr Bolsonaro clearly wanted to demonstrate that he still has voter pulling power, what with his poll ratings tumbling ahead of elections next year. Many blame him for the huge toll from Covid, a disease the President famously once dismissed as "the sniffles." Now, there are more than half a million Brazilians dead from coronavirus, yet he remains unapologetic. Tuesday's rally saw the President on full throttle, railing against the Supreme Court, which is currently investigating him in response to various allegations - the judges, he said, were communists. Watching all this in Sao Paolo was Andrew Downie. When you hear that a country has declared a state of emergency, you might wonder what kind of calamity has befallen it – a natural disaster perhaps, or invasion by a foreign army. Poland declared a state of emergency this week, but not for any of these reasons. Rather it was a fear that thousands of refugees and illegal immigrants are about to come pouring across the country’s border from next door Belarus. Hundreds have arrived already - most it seems originally from Afghanistan and Iraq. Belarus's President Aleksander Lukashenko, stands accused of encouraging these people to cross from his country into Poland – as a way of provoking the Polish government. Meanwhile, caught in the middle, are the new arrivals themselves, many trapped in no-man’s land on the Belarus-Polish border, as Adam Easton explains. It was “farewell Mutti” from German MPs this week – “Mutti” being the German word for “mum,” and the nickname given to the country’s chancellor, Angela Merkel. She made her final speech to the country’s Parliament, two weeks before Germany holds national elections. The result of that contest is still very hard to predict, with polls showing the different political parties yoyo-ing up and down in popularity. However, there is one outcome which is certain: Chancellor Merkel will no longer be Chancellor – she will stand down at the end of the process, after nearly sixteen years in power. She was famously Germany’s first female leader , and also the first from the formerly communist East Germany … and yet, not all these labels are quite as straightforward as they seem, according to Damien McGuiness. The attacks of September 11th twenty years ago marked the beginning of what was called the “Global War on Terror.” This was conducted in many countries and in different ways – western countries fearing they may be targeted, just as New York’s Twin Towers and the Pentagon had been. And it was fought against countries accused of harbouring terrorists, most notably Afghanistan. With US troops pulling out of Afghanistan last month, there’s no sign of that “War on Terror” abating. One place that it continues to be fought with particular ferocity is in Africa – from Tunisia in the north, which has seen horrific bomb and gun attacks on civilians, to Mozambique in the continent’s southeast, where a relatively new Islamist insurgency has cost many lives. Catherine Byaruhanga has been to many of these hot-spots, and reflects on how Africa has fared since 9-11.
Lebanon's Medicines Emergency
Lebanon was once the embodiment of glamour: its capital, Beirut, was nicknamed the “Paris of the Middle East” and enjoyed as an international playground. Today those glory years seem long gone. A political crisis has left the country without a properly functioning government – and its economy has imploded. The currency has lost more than 90% of its value and poverty has skyrocketed. There are shortages of fuel, water and food - and as Leila Molana-Allen explains, even essential medicines are getting harder and harder to find: It’s a scenario found in so many places around the world: the war is over, no more shots are being fired, no bombs dropped, and yet people are still dying. And why? Because of all the landmines which have been laid during the conflict – which don’t recognise ceasefires or treaties, and can still maim or kill anyone who treads on one. During last year’s fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the Nagorno Karabakh region, thousands of mines were buried in its hillsides. Efforts to defuse and remove them have already begun – but it’s slow, painstaking, and above all, terribly dangerous work. Colin Freeman has been hearing from some of the men trying to clear up the mess. As the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on America approaches, it’s a particularly difficult time for those who lost friends and family. Almost three thousand people were killed when Al Qaeda hijackers flew planes into the twin towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington. One of the dead was David Berry, who was killed in the south tower of the World Trade Center. He was 43 years old and had young children. His widow, Paula Grant Berry, has been talking to Laura Trevelyan. Travelling through Italy you're bound to run into Mazzini, Garibaldi and Cavour – the key historic figures in the country's unification. From the Alps to Sicily, there are endless roads, piazzas and monuments named in their honour. But new roads call for new ideas - and the choices made about who to commemorate can be surprising. In Ozzano dell'Emilia – a village of 14,000 people near the northern city of Bologna - they've decided to dedicated a new road to a rather unexpected – and flamboyant – personality. Dany Mitzman's been to walk the freshly-rolled tarmac of Via Freddy Mercury. They say that in big cities like London or New York you’re never more than a few metres away from a rat. Hugh Schofield now has proof positive that it’s true - and has an alarming tale of a most unwelcome visitor to his home in the French capital. Producer: Polly Hope
Forever wars – and how they can end
The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan has serious implications for global security. Western governments are concerned about the prospect of more attacks on their own turf. But there’s also particular worry that jihadist movements in Africa and Asia could gain ground. Might the news from Kabul attract new recruits to their ranks – especially in those places where international forces have been deeply involved in fighting them back? The various armed groups allied with Al Qaida and the Islamic State across the Sahel and east Africa have been wreaking havoc for more than a decade now. Andrew Harding has reported on many of those wars, and recent events have brought back vivid memories… and hard questions… In Afghanistan itself, some among the Taliban now in charge of the country again have grievances of their own, after losing relatives and comrades killed in airstrikes and night raids over the past twenty years. So how will they rule, and treat their old enemies? Kate Clark was the BBC correspondent in Kabul in the final years of the last Taliban regime, where she witnessed the fall of the city in 2001 – and she has done so again in 2021. She’s seen rulers come and go – and how after each change of regime, cycles of revenge have been fed, prolonging the conflict. After a week of chaos, she considers a longer view of four decades of war. Reporting from Israel often inevitably revolves around the politics of Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Even the basic, day-to-day issues – town planning, health care, education – are complicated by this central problem. So imagine the challenge of policing in such a divided setting. For some time, Palestinian citizens of Israel have reported rising violence within their communities – not politically motivated, but driven by organised crime. The mobsters’ trade in drugs and weapons, and their vendettas, have blighted many areas – and left many families bereaved. Yolande Knell has spoken to several families trying to cope with the aftermath. In Spain, paying the rent is often a political issue – and there’s a long history of squatting. After the property crash of 2008, many families fought to stay on in homes that did not belong to them, because they couldn’t afford their mortgages any more. In cities like Barcelona, while prices slumped, speculators moved in and bought up buildings at knock-down prices. Thousands of flats are still standing empty. Some have been illegally occupied by people who just can’t afford a market rent and needed a roof over their heads. But not all squatters actually live in the homes they take over. Criminals have spotted an opportunity: why not just move into a property and demand a ‘ransom’ of thousands of Euros from the owner before they will leave? Linda Pressly recently met a man who claimed to be a professional extortionist in Barcelona… And Patrick Muirhead takes a gruelling hike in the Seychelles, on the trail of its fabled Jellyfish Tree. It’s not just rare, but a botanical mystery: no-one yet understands how it manages to reproduce. In the teeth of climate change and rapid development for the islands' tourism industry, there are fears the species may not last much longer. If a proposed dam is built to supply water for the growing population of Mahé island, it could engulf one of the last remaining outcrops of the plant. Producer: Polly Hope
Afghanistan: Questions, Doubts and Fears
It’s been a week of searing and surreal images from Afghanistan after the Taliban’s lighting takeover of Kabul. The spectacle of an official Taliban news conference, televised live from the capital on Tuesday, was proof of how just how fast events have moved. The Taliban leadership may have promised forgiveness, reconciliation and protection of women’s rights. But the mood is fearful and there are still thousands of Afghans desperate to get out of the country by any means possible. Lyse Doucet has been hearing from many of them. As the West’s twenty-year mission to Afghanistan comes to an end, there are questions around the world about how the international intervention, and the new political structures set up after 2001, went so desperately wrong, so fast. Paul Adams has also been covering events and searching his own memories of time spent with foreign forces in the country for clues. The latest earthquake in Haiti has inflicted more losses on a nation that’s endured plenty of them. The shocks and aftershocks last Saturday caused at least 2,200 deaths, injured more than 12,000 people and destroyed tens of thousands of homes. After the far more devastating quake back in 2010, more than 200,000 Haitians ended up living in squalid encampments in the capital, Port au Prince. This time around, the plan is to encourage survivors to stay put and rebuild, rather than run to already overburdened cities. James Clayton has been to some of the worst-affected areas in the southwest of the country. Imagine that one ordinary day you find out that - although you feel perfectly normal - you’re officially dead. That’s the experience of a surprising number of people across India. Thousands of men and women who are very much alive are being registered as dead, often by their own relatives who are angling to inherit their property. Covid restrictions prevented Chloe Hadjimatheou from going to India to investigate in person - but she’s been on the trail of these extraordinary stories. Finding out how easily this could happen to anyone brought home to her the extraordinary power which bureaucrats can have... The cultural history of Paris has a vivid streak of lowlife as well as high art. From Edith Piaf, the “little sparrow” belting out songs on street corners, to Gavroche, the plucky but doomed urchin of Les Miserables – there’s often a deep affection for those characters who must live by their wits on the streets. But the city’s wiles and its tricksters have caused many an unsuspecting visitor to come unstuck. Some come away with more vivid memories of time spent in police stations, embassies and travel agents, trying to untangle their misadventures, than of great meals or cultural highlights. Christine Finn’s been keeping an eye out and her wits about her ... Producer: Polly Hope
A Summer of Fires in Greece
Greece has been ravaged by almost six hundred wildfires in recent weeks. Thousands of firefighters have struggled to contain the raging flames which have destroyed hundreds of thousands of hectares of land; more than 60,000 people so far have had to flee their homes to safety. The Greek government has promised compensation payments for those affected and a massive drive to reforest the burnt areas “We saved lives, but we lost forests and property”, the Prime Minister admitted this week, calling it ‘an ecological catastrophe’. Bethany Bell reports from Athens, the island of Evia and the Peloponnese. Across Afghanistan, the country’s national army and security forces have been losing ground to the Taliban. The insurgents’ fighters have pushed forward and major provincial capitals including Herat, Kunduz and Zaranj have now been taken over. The Taliban also announced they were in control of the town of Ghazni, only 93 miles from Kabul. Before they moved into the centre of Kandahar, in the south, Shelly Kittleson had managed to get into the city. Since a rare outbreak of street protests in Cuba a month ago, its government has been arresting and jailing many of those who dared take part. Cubans are also still suffering the triple impact of a Covid surge, a serious economic crunch and frosty relations with the Biden administration in the USA. Power cuts and shortages only add to the discontent. Will Grant recently returned to the island after a while away, and sensed a definite change in the atmosphere. Amid Libya’s civil wars, rival governments and militia groups, there are also foreign players: backers, influencers and fighters. One particular group of Russian mercenaries, operating in the east, has been accused of war crimes against civilians. Allegations that the group has links to the Russian government have been strongly denied by President Vladimir Putin himself. Nader Ibrahim has been investigating connections between Russia and Libya for a long time and recently heard a fascinating story one night in Tripoli. Would you rent out a holiday hut which was built for a leading Nazi collaborator? Perhaps surprisingly, it’s something you can do in Norway. During the Second World War, the Germans installed a local sympathiser as the country’s leader: Vidkun Quisling. His surname itself has become a synonym for a lackey, traitor or bootlicker. The Scottish writer and novelist Ben McPherson has lived in Norway for many years, and he was surprised to learn Quisling’s summer cabin in the fjords was available for bookings … Producer: Polly Hope
The price of dissent in Belarus
The repressive tactics of the Belarusian state have been back in the news this week – and all over the map. The Olympic Games in Tokyo were shaken by sprinter Krystina Timonovskaya’s row with her coaches – she ended up seeking asylum in Poland. In Ukraine, the head of a group helping Belarusian emigres was found hanged in a park in Kyiv; his death is still being investigated. In Belarus itself, it’s nearly a year since the disputed election of August 2020 - which sparked mass protests over the result. Since then the government of Aleksandr Lukashenko has been going after people who were involved in the demonstrations with every means to hand. This week, one of the main ‘faces’ of the protests went on trial. Sarah Rainsford was in Minsk and has been speaking to family and friends of Maria Kolesnikova. In Nigeria, the mass abduction of children has become a tragically recurring kind of news story: eighty taken in one incident, over 120 in another – just in the past few months. But it’s not just crime which is destabilising Nigeria right now. There is the continuing insurgency of the jihadist group Boko Haram in the north, and a crop of separatist movements around the country. As Mayeni Jones reports, the insecurity is now touching even people who’d previously managed to shield themselves from the worst: It sounds like the stuff of a military dictatorship: troops will be out on the streets, enforcing a curfew, with people forbidden to leave their homes except on essential business. But this is Sydney, Australia - where yet another lockdown has been enforced, in in an effort to halt a surge in Covid cases. Different parts of this vast country have adopted their own rules – but one thing all parts of Australia share is a reverence for the traditional character of the “larrikin” – a rebellious, anti-establishment type who doesn’t take kindly to rules or regulations of any sort. So, Phil Mercer asks, how has a larrikin-loving nation reacted to such draconian measures? Costa Rica gets a lot of good press for its efforts to preserve nature. It’s got an extraordinary array of micro-climates and species, and it's a leading voice in international efforts to tackle climate change. So it's also a hotspot for nature tourists – from bird spotters to those who want to wander into a real live rainforest. But not everything about Costa Rica’s government is green – and not all its life forms are friendly. Michelle Jana Chan went for a night walk which shed light on all sorts of wonders… and horrors. Producer: Polly Hope
Tunisia's Unfinished Business
The political crisis which broke out in Tunisia last weekend is still simmering. Of all the countries in North Africa and the Middle East which toppled their dictators a decade ago, only Tunisia emerged as a full, multi-party democracy. Its free and fair elections, featuring candidates and groups of all ideological stripes, have been an exception in the wider region since then. But discontent has still mounted over the state of the economy, pandemic response and police tactics. Plenty of Tunisians don't necessarily see their country as a model for others - and President Kais Saied’s recent moves to freeze Parliament and remove the Prime Minister were welcomed by many. Rana Jawad explores why the situation looks rather different from Tunis. Next week it will be a year since the chemical explosion that devastated the Lebanese capital, Beirut. It was one of the largest non-nuclear blasts in history – which killed more than 200 people and left more than 300,000 homeless. One of the worst-hit neighbourhoods was the close-knit district of Karantina, right next to the port. Survivors who’ve gone back to their rebuilt homes there hope that its special character can be preserved. But there are also some visionary, larger-scale proposals to redevelop the city – and as Tim Whewell found, the new plans might not leave room for everyone. This November, Barbados is planning to celebrate its 55 years of independence and become a republic – meaning the Queen will no longer be its head of state. It’s seen as a turning point in the country’s history - and a chance for Barbados to move even further on from its colonial past. Other historic legacies may be harder to unpick, though. Barbados was Britain’s first slave-holding society abroad; and the economic impact, and the debts, of the slavery era are still much discussed across the Caribbean. Zeinab Badawi recently visited a surviving 17th century mansion in the north of this island, which is now a museum. The UNHCR estimates that there are probably at least ten million individuals worldwide with no identity or nationality documents issued by any country. For them, the most basic challenges – registering a birth, getting childhood inoculation or exam certificates, applying for jobs or loans - can be insurmountable. But some countries are now deciding to make it easier to get legal status. In Kenya, hundreds of people from a Shona-speaking religious community with roots more than a thousand miles south, in Zimbabwe, were recently given a fresh chance. Vivienne Nunis saw several moments of pure joy at a ceremony to grant them citizenship. There’s never been a summer Olympic Games quite like Tokyo's... and Covid restrictions also apply to the journalists who are meant to cover the event. Their task is even more important when the crowds of spectators aren’t around to witness the sporting triumphs at first hand – but this time they definitely can’t just wander around looking for athletes to speak to. Or soak up the atmosphere inside the Olympic village or on the streets of Tokyo. Alex Capstick has covered more sporting contests than he’d care to remember – but this time it’s different… Producer: Polly Hope
The destructive power of water is often underestimated… until it’s too late. Large areas of Europe and China are still reeling from the damage left by some of their worst floods for decades. Across Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, there were over 200 deaths and billions of euros' worth of damage done. Now there are questions over whether this disaster will make voters more concerned about the effects of climate change. Although the Netherlands was least affected by the latest floods, water management is an existential threat for such a low-lying country. Anna Holligan has seen the worry – as well as the wreckage - on the ground there and in Germany. Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro was recently briefly admitted to hospital after intestinal problems made him hiccup uncontrollably. He appears to have recovered and has been out and about, talking to the media and to the public. But his political worries are not over – in fact they’re only growing more acute. Many of his former allies are beginning to peel away. The country’s Senate is now investigating his government’s record of decision-making on Covid, from refusing to lock down to failure to procure medical supplies and vaccines. There are allegations swirling of corrupt vaccine-purchasing deals. Yet Mr Bolsonaro can still count on solid support from some of those who helped to elect him. Orla Guerin heard from them in Brasilia. The war between Armenia and Azerbaijan for control of Nagorno Karabakh, is over - for now. The conflict there has flared up repeatedly over more than thirty years, with both countries insisting that the region is legally and historically theirs. In late 2020 Azerbaijan launched a lightning offensive – and came out on top this time around, capturing towns and territory with significant help from its regional ally, Turkey. Colin Freeman recently returned to one town which he’d last seen at the centre of a fierce battle. South Africa is counting the costs of a mass outbreak of looting and destruction. In and around the cities of Johannesburg and Durban, businesses and homes were burned and ransacked. The police were fiercely criticised in some places for not doing enough to stop the violence. As well as criminal investigation, the country is now also doing plenty of soul-searching about the root causes of such widespread chaos. Gregory Mthembu-Salter and his family share the national concern, as his wife’s side of the family live where the looting was worst, in Kwa Zulu -Natal. The Mexican state of Sinaloa is deeply enmeshed in the drug trade. Profits from organised crime are an important driver of the local economy, especially in the state’s capital. In Culiacán , luxury cars can often be seen cruising the streets. Restaurants, bars, and designer fashion outlets all depend on the cash brought in from narcotics. And there's another expensive consumer fixation fuelled by narco culture – widespread plastic surgery. Linda Pressly talked to one of the city’s busy cosmetic surgeons. Producer: Polly Hope
About the podcast From Our Own Correspondent Podcast
Insight, wit and analysis as BBC correspondents, journalists and writers take a closer look at the stories behind the headlines. Presented by Kate Adie and Pascale Harter.